3 Things the Twins Saw in Matt Shoemaker's Arsenal
Image courtesy of John David Mercer-USA TODAY SportsFirst of all, Shoemaker throws both a four-seam fastball and a sinker, and he locates each of them consistently and effectively. His four-seamer has an above-average spin rate, and he’s able to attack the top of the strike zone with it, especially from the middle of the plate to the first-base side of it. His sinker has a markedly lower spin rate, which is a plus for that particular pitch, and he runs it in on the hands of right-handed batters well.
A significant difference in spin rates between the four-seamer and sinker is, in itself, a fairly unusual and desirable characteristic, and demonstrates Shoemaker’s overall feel for pitching. It’s just a bonus, though. The Twins love to have pitchers utilize two fastballs, even if they lack that rare differential, as long as they can command each to at least one side of home plate. Wes Johnson has worked to Foster that skill in José Berríos over the last two seasons. He and his staff got Kenta Maeda back to using both fastballs more evenly after acquiring him last winter. Jake Odorizzi dramatically increased his sinker usage, in defiance of league-wide trends, after the Twins acquired him in February 2018, and it helped unlock other stuff in his repertoire. There’s a clear organizational preference for two-fastball approaches, where they can be acquired or taught at reasonable cost.
Shoemaker has something else in common with Maeda and Odorizzi, and with Homer Bailey (who was last winter’s equivalent of the Shoemaker signing): his changeup is a splitter. That’s a pitch (or pitch variant) for which the Twins also have a clear affinity. There are (pardon the pun) a handful of ways to throw a changeup, and each tends to create a slightly different effect. Circle-changes maximize the lateral movement (or fade) of the pitch, relative to a fastball. Four-seam changeups like Lucas Giolito’s can create massive velocity differentials between the fastball and the change. The splitter tends to generate the largest separation in vertical movement from a fastball, though, especially because they tend to be very, very low in spin (Shoemaker’s is no exception). That usually means a lot of swings and misses.
The biggest tradeoffs in throwing the splitter come in the realm of command, and (by extension) in vulnerability to home runs. There are also some teams who still believe that splitters cause elbow injuries. There’s no truth to the latter, when the pitch is thrown correctly, but the notion persists. The Twins target hurlers who have demonstrated good command of their splitters, and don’t sweat the injury risk. Even if it were real, and properly priced by the market, the Twins would not be cowed: they’re more risk-friendly than most teams.
Shoemaker’s fourth pitch is the third reason why the Twins took a particular interest in him. His slider has excellent vertical depth. That’s something we’ve seen the Twins emphasize in several recent acquisitions, but also as they’ve tweaked and rebuilt the sliders of incumbent pitchers like Ryan Pressly, Trevor May, and Tyler Duffey. Vertical movement engenders swings and misses better than horizontal movement does, and makes a pitch more effective against opposite-handed batters. Even as he’s made other, productive changes to his pitch mix over the last few years, Shoemaker has not thrown his slider much against left-handed batters. The Twins might well change that this year, even at the expense of his uninspiring curveball.
Unlike some other teams, the Twins don’t lock in on any one type of pitcher. They may like certain things that Berríos, Maeda, Odorizzi, J.A. Happ, and Shoemaker have in common, but they like Michael Pineda and Rich Hill, too, for the very different things they do well. Still, Shoemaker is a perfect fit for Johnson and the team’s pitching infrastructure, and that should increase fans’ confidence that he’ll pitch well in 2021.
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